News Deeply, in partnership with Sustainable Brands, is producing a series of profiles looking at how brands are tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges. The goal is to examine trends and gather insights from a new wave of corporate citizenship – in an era in which the private sector is increasingly expected to play a positive role in improving our lives and societies. This, the 1st article in the series, features additional reporting by Mike Hower.
With cities accounting for over 70 percent of global energy use and 40 to 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, according to UN-HABITAT, the world’s collective climate fate may rest on figuring out how to develop and scale technologies that allow them to run more efficiently. In other words: combine cleantech with big data to create the “smart” cities of tomorrow.
Big brands are playing an important role in bringing about this new age of high tech, connected cities. Microsoft, GE and Bank of America, for example, are among the ten companies that are supporting a White House challenge to U.S. cities to become smarter by accelerating deployment of technologies that tackle energy, water, waste and air challenges. As cities around the world adopt these innovations to meet sustainability goals, boost local economies and improve services, smart city technology revenue will grow from $8.8 billion annually worldwide in 2014 to $27.5 billion in 2023, according to a 2014 report by Navigant Research.
AT&T, through its new Smart Cities initiative, is also working to help build more connected cities and more environmentally sustainable communities. For more than 100 years, the company has formed strong relationships with cities across the country, and its Smart Cities framework leverages community connections and IoT leadership to deliver new technology solutions that will help cities save money, preserve natural resources and improve the quality of life for their citizens.
To learn more about what the company is doing to help advance the development of smart cities and also reduce its own carbon footprint, we talked with Roman Smith, AT&T's director of Sustainability Integration at AT&T.
What is the Smart Cities initiative? How does AT&T define “smart city”?
Roman Smith: AT&T defines a smart city as one that uses technology to help increase operational efficiency, reduce costs, preserve natural resources and improve the quality of life for its citizens.
AT&T formed a dedicated Smart Cities Organization in September 2015. In January 2016, we announced the launch of a Smart Cities framework to help cities better serve their citizens and the environment. AT&T is helping to make cities cleaner, safer and stronger by providing connectivity and technology solutions that can help lead to environmental, social and economic benefits. We’re helping communities solve problems by connecting things like utility meters, street lights and water pipes. Adding connectivity to physical properties can transform how cities serve their citizens, use energy and preserve natural resources.
We will bring the Smart Cities framework to several initial spotlight cities and communities that include Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Georgia Institute of Technology, Miami-Dade County (FL), Chapel Hill (NC) and Montgomery County (MD).
How can a city’s carbon footprint be reduced as part of the smart cities initiative?
RS: Not only [does AT&T] have a ubiquitous network, but we also have a network of partners we’re working with to create and deploy Internet of Things solutions for cities and communities. Adding connectivity to physical properties like utility meters, connected street lights, and water pipes can transform how cities serve their citizens, use energy and preserve natural resources. As mentioned, we’re still in the first phase of our pilot. As the initiative progresses in each of our spotlight cities, we’ll be measuring the impact of these solutions.
Examples of smart energy solutions within a city that can affect carbon emissions include smart lighting and smart meters. With smart lighting, maintenance crews could remotely manage a city’s entire street lighting system. An app could show every faulty light in a city so that maintenance crews no longer waste time and fuel driving around town to find and replace broken bulbs. And AT&T provides cellular connectivity to smart-grid devices like smart meters that allow for better outage management, helping to make energy grids more efficient and reliable.
We are currently in the initial phase of introducing our spotlight cities and communities. We’ll eventually begin deploying solutions to the spotlight cities and communities, and measuring the impacts. Together with our smart cities strategic alliance, we’ll be able to help these cities enable things such as large-scale carbon emissions savings. The possibilities are endless and we are just beginning to capture what they are.
AT&T has set a goal to enable carbon savings 10 times its footprint by 2025. What is your company’s current carbon footprint and where does it primarily come from?
RS: The Global e-Sustainability Initiative’s SMARTer2030 report finds that increased use of information and communications technology (ICT) can enable a 20 percent reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, holding them at 2015 levels — translating into a benefit nearly 9.7 times higher than our industry’s own footprint.
This finding helped inform our 10x goal. We set this goal because we know that technology plays a critical role in empowering the transition to the low-carbon economy. Our products and services can help better manage resource use, increase business resiliency and improve daily lives. The 10x goal is part of AT&T’s roadmap to 2025, a goals platform that includes long-term goals and targets to help us focus our resources and keep us accountable for progress.
We have not yet reported our 2015 footprint, but as of 2014, our domestic and international carbon footprint is 9.3M metric tons CO2-equivalent. Our scope 2 emissions account for almost 88 percent of our total GHG emissions.
How does AT&T intend to become net positive?
RS: We are working to enhance the efficiency of our network and deliver solutions that help customers reduce their carbon emissions. One of the most significant tasks behind this goal is establishing a path to measure this impact. We look forward to joining other companies, NGOs and customers – including our Net Positive Project peers – on this journey. At the same time, we’re considering our own impact. We face a unique challenge in powering this revolution as we grow, while also minimizing our environmental footprint. So, we’ll also be addressing our emissions by enhancing our energy efficiency, deploying alternative-fuel vehicles throughout our fleet, and managing our carbon footprint.
How are you engaging your employees around your sustainability efforts?
RS: The way we sell sustainability internally is: It’s helping our communities be cleaner, stronger and safer. And it’s certainly a business value proposition – if we can provide the type of service that customers want, it’s a win-win. What’s cool about sustainability is, we’re helping our internal folks know it’s not this ancillary thing that is costing more – this is about market opportunity. Especially for a company such as AT&T, with upwards of 250,000 employees, it’s very nice to see the culture continue to adapt.
What advice would you give to other companies looking to put business and purpose together?
RS: I really like the idea of truly having a purpose. My advice is to step back and define that purpose. One of the things I heard during the Sustainable Brands conference, which I think is very true, is that it’s not about a destination. You’re not just getting to a specific destination. The road to sustainability is a journey – and the journey will always continue. You have to continue to learn and build and learn and build, and it’s never going to be over, but that’s the exciting part of what we do.
What have you learned from AT&T’s sustainability journey so far?
RS: I learned that, overall, you really have to be genuine in everything you do. At the beginning, we were arguing about green packaging with leaf patterns, green phones, and that type of stuff. We quickly learned that the marketing aspect of it is not what’s going to sell. You have to be genuine about providing products and services that consumers need and want.